Wisdom from the Masters for the Care and Maintenance of the Soul
Gale E. Christianson describes the young Loren Eiseley as “the running man,” but adds he somehow always found the road home. According to Christianson’s biography of the multifaceted writer-anthropologist-philosopher, he hopped freight trains and rode the boxcars for at least three or four years, both alone and with his friends. He finally hooked up with the wandering brotherhood of freighthoppers, sometimes called hobos or tramps by society. In “The Road Home” we’ll find that all humans are at some point wanderers and drifters—running men. But the good news is that we, like the youthful Loren Eiseley, always have the possibility and opportunity to find the road home. [Note: After reading, please take a few moments to view “The Road Home” video at the bottom of this writing.]
The running man epithet originated with Loren Eiseley in his autobiography, “All the Strange Hours.” My copy of this incomparable work that he subtitles, “The Excavation of a Life” gathers no dust on the shelf to which its well-worn pages attest.
Eiseley remembered an event during his fifth year that had a profound effect on his life from that day forward. The same year that the Titanic sank, three prisoners escaped from the Nebraska State Penitentiary near where the Eiseley family lived in Lincoln. Loren’s father, after reading the account in the newspaper, remarked, “They’ll never make it.”
For days the prisoners evaded their pursuers through a howling blizzard. Loren’s dad kept him abreast of the tragic adventure by reading him newspaper accounts. At last, the posse trapped the men and shot them. They never made it. And Loren never forgot.
“I identified with the man (the leader of the fugitive band),” Eiseley wrote, “as I always had across the years.” Remembering his years of running, he remarked to a friend, “We never made it.”
An early incident became a precursor of his later restless travels. The family now lived in Aurora, Nebraska. Against his father’s injunction, Loren joined a pack of local boys he’d befriended and ran off through the fields with his mother in pursuit. “I ran, and with me ran my childish companions, over fences, tumbling down haystacks.” His mother, couldn’t catch him. “Escape, escape the first stirrings of the running man. Miles of escape,” Eiseley wrote.
But even at that tender young age, little Loren found the road home. “Walking home alone in the twilight I was bitterly ashamed.”
Eiseley’s biographer described his years riding boxcars westward with the wandering brotherhood of freighthoppers as “Phantom travelers on a phantom track, running from the past, the present, and the future.”
As the last of his drifting days approached, the train he had hopped stopped in Kansas City. He encountered a kindly switchman in the dark who asked, “Where you goin’ in such a hurry?” Aloud the young wanderer replied, “I’m going home.”
Many miles of track lay between Eiseley and home. Sometimes the way home is a long, long road. A road traveled by many a wayfarer, including the prodigal son of whom Jesus of Nazareth spoke.
One might title the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, “God’s Lost and Found.” It contains three parables told by Christ about things lost and found: The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7); The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10; and The Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32).
Jesus warned, “Broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matthew 7:13 KJV). In the parable of the lost son, a man takes the broad way and learns, as Dorothy Gale learned in the Wizard of Oz, There’s no place like home.
The parable begins with a father’s youngest son growing tired of staying at home. He demanded his inheritance and left home to pursue the good life in a far country. We don’t know what country. It doesn’t matter. What happened to the son during his sojourn matters very much.
The Scripture records that “he squandered his property in reckless living” (Luke 15:13). Not only did he spend everything, but also he began starving because of a severe famine in the land. He became so needy that he hired himself out to a farmer who sent him to feed the pigs. The young man’s desperation drove him to crave the husks fed to the pigs, but no one gave him anything.
What happens next becomes the turning point in the story. “But when he came to himself, he said, How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!” (Luke 15:17). The road home for the prodigal divides into three sections.
First, he remembered. What did he remember? He remembered his father. He remembered the well-fed hired servants in his father’s house. He remembered an abundance of bread. He remembered the privileged life he once had at home.
Second, he resolved, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” The fact he saw his wasteful living not only as an offense to his father but also a sin against “heaven,” gives us a peek into the young man’s heart. This and his next resolution depicted a changed heart.
He resolved to say to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:19). The young son acquired perhaps the most difficult life skill we humans can learn: humility. The road home requires that. Returning after jumping the fence for greener pastures amounts to an acknowledgment that, “I was wrong.”
Here, many a prodigal does not follow through. Pride swells up and impedes the return. It’s possible to fall but not fall far enough to change the heart. Such was not the case with the prodigal son. He’d learned a lesson no university can teach. Nothing could stand in his way. The running man set out on the road home.
Christ said, “He arose and came to his father” (Luke 15:20). The term arose comes from the Greek word anistēmi meaning to “rise up.” Jesus used the expression when he promised Lazarus’s sister that her expired brother would, “rise again (anistēmi)” (John 11:23). Elsewhere, the Scriptures use the same word to mean resurrection. Jesus applied it to the resurrection of our bodies, promising to “raise it up (anistēmi) on the last day” (John 6:39).
The prodigal’s return became a resurrection of sorts. He had been as good as dead in the far country. His return to his father’s house represented a return to life from the dead. The prodigal’s father even announced to the household, “This my son was dead, and is alive again” (Luke 15:24). And, as with our resurrection in the last day, what he gained infinitely exceeded what he left behind.
The first stanza of Michael Dennis Browne’s poem “The Road Home” reads:
Tell me, where is the road I can call my own,
That I left, that I lost so long ago?
All these years I have wandered,
Oh, when will I know
There’s a way, there’s a road that will lead me home?
Then Michael Dennis Browne writes in the second stanza that discovering the road home begins when one wakes from a dream (as the prodigal’s resurrection) and follows a voice “that will lead me home.”
Rise, up, follow me, come away, is the call,
With love in your heart as the only song;
There is no such beauty as where you belong.
Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home.
The voice that effectively calls us out of the far country to which we’ve wandered must be none other than Jesus, who invites us to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Time and time again he said, follow me. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
When God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, their progeny became lost “strangers and aliens” outside “the household of God” (Ephesians 2:29). Homeless. Oh, humanity builds elaborate structures and calls them home. But in the deep recesses of the mind and heart, we know. We recognize the “running man.” Phantom travelers on a phantom track, running from the past, the present, and the future.
The voice that leads us to a stable life in a home that doesn’t decay invites believers to come to him and follow him to our Heavenly Father’s house. The House of God now, and an eternal home when our journey’s over.
People of faith since the time of Abraham know that in life we have no real home outside the Father’s house. The old patriarch became one of the richest men in the ancient world, but never lived in a permanent home. He lived in tents. Why did he choose this nomadic lifestyle? Abraham had a real home “whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). The old proverb, home is where the heart is, could not be truer than in Abraham’s case. His heart was with his God. And wherever the Lord led, there Abraham was at home.
Believers acknowledge that they are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). They “make it clear that they are seeking a homeland” (Hebrews 11:14). Jesus promised to never leave his people homeless. “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
Thomas Wolfe wrote a book entitled, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” He constructed the story on the premise one can never fully “go back home to your family, back home to your childhood… away from all the strife and conflict of the world… back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time.”
Thomas Wolfe knew human nature. When a man gets enough of the world and its strife, he dreams (usually inaccurately) of how much better things were at the place of his youth. The old hometown. But those things and the people we remember, change. We change. We can never recapture that world except in our flawed memory.
Loren Eiseley lived the life of a skeptic regarding religious matters, yet at the last, he knew a better home awaited him. “I feel my hour coming. I am anxious to press on. They wait for me…”
Eiseley became a close friend with an elderly doctor who, in his late eighties, began succumbing to the ravages of time. A picture on the doctor’s wall fascinated Eiseley. It showed a long lane with a house in the distance. Eiseley thought, “He’ll be walking that road soon to the big house of his childhood,” adding, “He will be all right. He will know where to go… most of us lose our way when the time comes.” But not all.
The home to which Jesus invites us goes on for eternity but begins now. It begins when the Holy Spirit leads us to Christ, and we read and obey His Word. It begins when we seek and become a part of a church home. It begins when we lose our fascination for places made of brick and mortar and lay claim to our eternal homeland; the place promised by Jesus.
A song I’ve heard in worship services since childhood written by Will Lamartine Thompson focuses on Jesus’ invitation to all prodigals.
|Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling—|
Calling for you and for me;
Patiently Jesus is waiting and watching—
Watching for you and for me!
Come home! come home!
Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
There are many roads that lead us away from home, but only one road brings us back. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the road home.